The arrival of a spectacular four-masted sail boat in Cayman Brac on Friday could herald the start of a new era of cruise tourism for the island.
Without the amenities or the infrastructure to adequately handle full-size cruise ships, tourism chiefs on the Brac hope to tap into a niche market of smaller touring vessels like the MS Star Flyer.
The 16-sail ship and its 114 passengers were greeted at Scott’s dock on Friday by an entourage of tourism officials, taxi drivers and tour operators. A small craft market had been assembled on the dock and a sizable crowd of locals gathered to greet the passengers and take photographs of the picturesque ship.
At Barracuda’s Bar across the road, a sign on the window proclaimed “Welcome, passengers.”
Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell was there to shake hands with the first tourists as they stepped on shore.
The sense of relief, and of opportunity, for the island was palpable.
Few present said they could recall the last time a cruise ship of any kind docked on the island and the prospect of a weekly visit would be a welcome boost to the island’s tourist-based economy.
Friday was the first of five scheduled visits for the island-hopping schooner, which has included both Grand Cayman and the Brac in its itinerary on a trial basis. If successful, the two islands will be part of the ship’s Caribbean region route for next season, meaning weekly calls from September through March.
Gerald Schoeber, the first officer of the ship, said his first impressions of the Brac were very good.
He said the company was interested in changing up its route for next season.
“This is just a trial to find out if it is a good cruise. So far everybody is happy,” Mr. Schoeber said.
“I am quite confident that Star Clippers will want to keep coming here,” he added.
Mr. Kirkconnell, who is also a legislator for the Sister Islands, said smaller ships like the Star Flyer and the MV Island Sky, which will dock at the Brac for a one-off stop on March 18, represented a real growth opportunity for the island.
“When we identified cruise tourism for Cayman Brac, we looked at getting a small upscale cruise vessel that would put the Brac on the itinerary. To see the vessel actually here and anchored, to see the people coming ashore, we are extremely pleased with where we are,” he said.
Mr. Kirkconnell said tall ships and smaller cruise operators also offered a different kind of opportunity for Grand Cayman.
“They (Star Clipper) are investigating and we are working hard to see if they will actually home port in Grand Cayman.
“That would mean they (tourists) would fly into Grand Cayman, get on board the vessel, the crew would take their stores in Cayman Islands, buy their bunkers in the Cayman Islands, they would take their water in Cayman Islands, so you certainly get added value to the cruise visit,” he said.
The numbers on board may be small in comparison to the giant cruise ships seen frequently in George Town harbor, but Mr. Kirkconnell believes even a few hundred additional arrivals each week could make a big difference to the Brac.
“We think the 100-150 passenger range is ideal for the Brac. Certainly, I believe that, based on the cost of this cruise, they have more disposable income and it will spin off into our economy quite well,” he said.
The early indications appeared to be good. Within minutes of coming ashore, tourists were spending money in the craft market, boarding buses to take pre-arranged tours of island sites, or donning masks and flippers to snorkel from the jetty.
Chris and Amanda Wright, visiting from Hampshire in the United Kingdom, said the experience was very different from a regular cruise trip.
“This is a lovely little island, we are quite fortunate being on a small ship that we can come to little islands like this,” said Mr. Wright. “It’s quite different to other cruise ships. There is very little entertainment or that kind of thing, you just sit out for a night under the stars with the sound of the wind in the sails, it’s very romantic.
“It is good to have the variety of different places, the big towns like Grand Cayman and the small places like this.
“One of the things we like to see is this little market, it is helping the local community and doing something for them. That’s really good because often the big ships come into big ports and the people don’t really get any benefit from it at all.”
For Simone Scott, a Brac businesswoman who runs the store NIM Things, specializing in native island-made arts, crafts and jewelry, the feeling was mutual.
Ms. Scott, who had set up a stand at the market, said the ships’ visits would provide a welcome boost for the Brac.
“I’m kind of wayward on the cruise ship idea. The small cruise ships I like the idea of those, but the big cruise ships, I don’t think we have the capacity for that kind of stuff.
“The small ones and the tall ships, I would welcome any time.”